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First shipments of swine flu vaccine to be targeted to health providers

Flu vaccine

The first shipments of H1N1 influenza vaccine to Minnesota and North Dakota, due next week, will be targeted toward health providers on the front lines in treating flu victims.

In North Dakota, state health officials also said Thursday that they expect the next batch of H1N1 vaccine to arrive in mid-October, and eventually expect to receive enough of the vaccine to meet demand.

"Over the next several weeks the vaccine will continue arriving in stages," said Dr. Terry Dwelle, North Dakota's state health officer.

Because of the staged arrival, the vaccine will be made available first to the most critical groups.

North Dakota's first shipment of vaccine, 4,000 doses, will be in nasal mist form, which cannot be given to young children, pregnant women, those over 50 or those with chronic health conditions.

Similarly, Minnesota's first 28,000 doses of swine flu vaccine are earmarked for health care workers. Minnesota health officials couldn't say when more doses are expected.

Ultimately, North Dakota is slated to receive 380,000 doses of H1N1 vaccine, which should be enough to meet demand, said Kirby Kruger, state epidemiologist.

As more vaccine arrives, North Dakota health officials will announce availability as they work their way down the priority list.

Meanwhile, the availability of seasonal flu vaccine has been spotty, with anecdotal local shortages, North Dakota health officials said. "The demand in some areas has exceeded the supplies," Kruger said.

Elsewhere, health providers in some areas of the state have not yet received vaccine.

Flu vaccine makers have been struggling to supply both seasonal and H1N1 vaccines.

Besides health care workers, priority groups for the swine flu vaccination include pregnant women, household contacts and caregivers for children younger than 6 months old, because infants younger than 6 months cannot be vaccinated.

Also, those who should be vaccinated against the H1N1 virus include those ages 6 months to 24 years, and those 25 to 64 with health conditions that make them a higher risk for medical complications from flu.

Unlike the seasonal flu, those 65 and older are not urged to get the H1N1 vaccine. It could be that older people carry some immunity from earlier swine flu epidemics, health officials said.

Since Sept. 1, North Dakota health officials have received reports of 154 flu cases of all kinds, 44 of them H1N1 flu, involving 21 counties.

In Minnesota, 370 hospitalized patients were tested for flu, with 8 percent positive for H1N1 infection, and less than 1 percent with the seasonal flu.

So far, Dwelle said, symptoms for both strains of flu are those of typical flu infections, including aches and pains.

Also, for those who do fall ill from the flu, North Dakota has ample supplies of antiviral medication, said Tim Wiedrich, the health department's chief of emergency preparedness and response.

"We actually have a substantial quantity of antivirals available to us," he said, noting the supply exceeds the level recommended by federal health officials.